Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Some Little Thought!

Deutsche Version

Am I that narrow-minded and such a heretic if I do not like Dai Vernon's Cups and Balls routine? Contrary to many magicians I talked to I don't think the routine is well structured. If anything I find it confusing.

  1. First the balls vanish and reappear under the cups.
  2. Then the part that the spectator decides where the center ball will go.
  3. After that the penetration of the balls through the cups.
  4. Followed by the jumping of the outer balls to the center ball.
  5. Then the bogus explanation with the explanation of the concept of the false transfer and the secret load under the cup.
  6. And at last, the final loads.

Isn't that a different premise with each effect?

First a vanish and a reappearance. Then a transportation. So far so good, but then penetrations... that is an inconsistent explanation of the miracle. Especially, because in the beginning it could clearly be seen, that it was not a penetration that caused the balls to travel. If Mr. Vernon had chosen not to open his hand after the false transfer of the ball and instead had chosen to push with the hand on the cup, it would have looked like a penetration and therefore consistent. But no, first the whole palette of magic effects is celebrated, regardless of a uniform appearance of the act. Even the transportation of the balls from cup to cup does not fit. Does the ball become invisible after it leaves the cup? Does it travel at all? If Mr. Vernon had chosen that a penetration is the cause for all the effects, a transportation would only be thinkable, if he would have moved with his empty hand near the side of the cup, miming taking out the ball through the wall of the cup and then without opening the hand pushing it into the next cup. But no, he doesn't do that.

The following upsets me the most. He admits that all of it is a swindle. With that he cancels the former premises, which considering the missing consistency of the former part of the routine is not too much of a bad thing and explains the concept of the false transfer. Which disturbs me. Why does he explain the concept? Does it have to be? May be this fit Mr. Vernon, but does every little magic worm have to do it? Especially those who cannot do a proper false transfer.

Then it is time for the final loads... the following note: Darwin Ortiz wrote the wonderful book "Strong Magic". In it he explains the success of the final loads, that a spectators probably perceives the effects of a Cups and Balls routine differently than anticipated by the magician. To him the little balls appear under the cup while they should not be there, therefore a lemon, which really should not be there is a stronger effect.

My opinion: Obviously magicians are often unclear themselves what the cause of the effects is. Be it a penetration, sleight of hand or transportation. So the spectator has to make up his own mind what exactly is the cause of the miracles.

And Vernon's Cups and Balls is a sample item for a routine that is almost good, as it needs only minor modifications to do it right.


FreddyZ said...


Yes, you're absolutely right about the sequences not having any real set of logic to them. A case can be made of a great deal of magical effects (which make them annoying to me).

However, in the case of Cups and Balls, I think there may be two overriding factors that control an audience's percpetion of what's going on:

1) In the audience's mind, the cups & balls is essentially a gambling cheat. This may not have been their actual origin, but in their minds, it is a version of the shell game, and as such, the "point" of it is to fool the eye of the onlooker.

The additions - cups travelling through one another etc. - are merely ploys to obfuscate what's actually going on. It's eye candy not meant to be logical - it's meant to confuse. (Ironic since one of Vernon's famous quotes is "Confusion is not Magic." Care for some clothes, Mr. Emporer?)

2) The effect is not truly "magic' in my mind, but falls under the category of "juggling." A great deal of manipulation tries to pass tiself off as "magic," when in fact, it is just fancy juggling. (Not to denigrate the art - it's tough and requires a great deal of skill - it's simply NOT magic)

No one, and I mean NO ONE, in the audience actually believes that playing cards or candles or coins, etc are actually appearing, tranposing, etc. Perhaps the 5 year-olds, but they still think the sun coming up is magic (which it is, mind you!)

The performer is simply manipulating them, or to use a simpler term, jugling them deceptively. Thus, there is no experience of magic.

I know, this is a lot of words that sound as if I'm an aplogist for Vernon - which I am not. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and all that. But I feel we sometimes need to alter our expectations and see things as they really are - the cups and balls is simply a display of manipulative skill - juggling for short. Period. Not magic.

Intensely Magic said...

To paraphrase a personal hero, Ken Brooke, the routine is merely noise leading up to the final productions. This is what an audience remembers.

While I think you may be guilty of a little magician's logic here, I admire your thoughts. We have long been held back by our inability to question and even criticize our legends and semi-legends. This is NOT good magic and the standard move of reaching in front of the cup and "kicking" the ball under is laughably transparent. (As is the wand spin, as far as I'm concerned)

A comparison with the superior routines of Wonder or Williamson quickly shows the flaws in the Vernon routine.

I'm sure neither of us are trying to minimize Vernon's contributions to magic - a futile and impossible exercise. He deserves his status.

The cups and balls routine just isn't the highlight of his magic.


Trickster said...

Ahh Vernon, magic's most over rated performer. Honestly, the more I see of his stuff the less respect I have for him, and the more confusion I have as to why so many magicians think he is some sort of god. Sure he had some good ideas and did some great magical thinking, but I just haven't seen a performance that wasn't either boring as shit, self indulgent or simply so bad that all the sleights are exposed (balls and net is a great example). The worst is probably some of the manipulation videos out there, my god, he's being hailed as a hero simply because he can hide a card and coin behind his hand, we'll just ignore the fact that his moves obviously telegraph what he is doing, and if the audience can clearly tell that you have it hidden behind your hand, then it isn't magic.


If you hang around the castle every day, insult and belittle people people and con the next generation into thinking your the cream of the crop, then I suppose you get famous, and people start to believe the hype that you yourself started.

Gavroche said...

Roland, if you liked "Strong Magic" I recommend you read "Designing Miracles" as well.

I personally prefer Michael Ammar's version of the cups and balls routine. To me it makes perfect sense and he uses all the basic principles to cut off the audience's "escape routes" as described in "Designing Miracles".

Kent said...

I learned Vernon's routine as a kid. Did it for years. I took huge amounts of alcohol and other substances I'm too smart to name and came up with this.

Tried to Roland to nominate me as WMF. I don't even meet those standards, dammit.

I spent a lot of time winnowing down the effects I did for a cb routine. If you bother to watch you'll see I do two freakin' effects and repeat each one.